FBI seeks second review

Prosecutors in Boston asked to probe moonlighting case

Police officials decry move

State U.S. attorney declined to bring charges in February

April 04, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber and Gail Gibson | Del Quentin Wilber and Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

In a highly unusual move, FBI agents in Baltimore have asked federal prosecutors in another state to review a police moonlighting investigation after Maryland's U.S. attorney declined to bring charges this year.

The FBI's appeal has frustrated Baltimore and Baltimore County police officials, who said yesterday that they wrote within the past two weeks to the head of the FBI complaining about the move. County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan also wrote to Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris said he could not understand why Lynne A. Hunt, special agent in charge of the Baltimore field office of the FBI, would try to find another prosecutor when U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio decided the case wasn't worth pursuing.

"DiBiagio said there was not enough evidence to go forward," Norris said. "I can't run an organization with that many officers under suspicion. You either have enough [evidence] or you don't."

Hunt declined to comment yesterday.

FBI agents were investigating about 40 city and several county officers who moonlighted as security guards at Staples office-supply stores in the Baltimore area and in Washington.

Agents were investigating whether the officers were paid for work they never did and worked at Staples while on-duty. They also were investigating whether a Staples employee took more than $200,000 from the chain and used it to pay officers in cash.

Norris and union officials have long criticized the pace of the investigation, which began nearly three years ago. In early September, FBI agents swarmed across the Baltimore area, questioning officers at their offices and homes. Then, in February, police officials disclosed that DiBiagio had declined to bring charges against the officers.

Union officials said it was time for the FBI to end the probe.

"I think the FBI has wasted enough time on this case," said Gary McLhinney, president of the city's police union.

Norris and Sheridan complained in their letters about the length of the investigation and the confusion surrounding what comes next. In his letter, Norris offered to help the FBI if the bureau had enough evidence to bring the officers to trial, police sources said.

Local FBI officials appealed to prosecutors in Boston to look at the case after first consulting with officials in Washington. Federal prosecutors in Massachusetts could claim jurisdiction over the case because Staples is based in Framingham, Mass., outside Boston.

It was unclear yesterday whether federal prosecutors in Boston would take the case. Officials with the U.S. attorney's office there could not be reached late yesterday to comment. DiBiagio declined to comment yesterday, other than to confirm his original decision not to pursue charges.

The U.S. attorney's office has never publicly explained why it didn't bring charges.

Typically, the Baltimore FBI office and federal prosecutors in Maryland work in lockstep, with agents presenting cases for possible charges and then working closely with prosecutors.

It is extremely rare for agents to appeal a prosecutor's denial to higher ranking Justice Department officials in Washington or to try to sell the case in another jurisdiction.

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